Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Ezekiel's first vision, illustration (source unknown)
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and...out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures...As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
— Ezekiel 1:4a,5a,10
Volumes have been written on Ezekiel's first vision of the four living creatures who appear again to John of Patmos 600 years later, described in an almost identical verse.1 Indeed the language of Ezekiel is very much reflected throughout Revelation, both Ezekiel and John sharing powerful imaginings of God, angels and demons, and the world to come. Was Ezekiel seeing God here, or was he seeing man—what man could become? The choice of faces is interesting, most commentators seeing them as elements of a whole, i.e. different aspects of one personality. Here's an interpretation from a recent book on leadership:
"Each face is a metaphor of what a leader or manager needs to be—all at the same time. The lion metaphor implies strength and confidence, the ox metaphor implies work, service, and dedication, the man metaphor implies humanity and caring, while the eagle metaphor implies keen vision and awareness of both the immediate and future environment."2
Being one who believes that each of us is capable of leadership, not just a few, I'd say more simply that as thoughtful citizens, stewards of our world, the qualities we each need to develop (and nurture) are courage, service, kindness and vision, represented by the faces of the lion, ox, human and eagle. The question of whether Ezekiel saw God or man is thus moot. Perhaps what Ezekiel saw is what the visionary quaker George Fox described two thousand years later,
"...that of God in every one".3
To behold means to look, to observe with awe and wonder. A visionary prophet is able to see beyond surface appearance, to the spirit, and to share that with the rest of us. Ezekiel did it through his wild imaginings, George Fox in a quieter way, but both beheld, and both bring us in their own way to the idea that God is to be found, if sought.
1 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. (Revelation 4:7) It has been suggested that John's creatures, like Ezekiel's also had four faces but John only noted the face that was turned towards him. It is also possible the translation/interpretation of the original text changed over time.
2 Biblical Principles of Leading and Managing Employees pp 77-82, Bruce E. Winston, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018
3 "Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.", George Fox, 1656